Napolitano’s charity work is selective and so is his demolition work occasionally, especially delicate adjustments when knocking down homes built around 1758 in this most historic of cities.
Many firsts have come to Sean Napolitano later in life — he is the first generation owner of his well-regarded roofing and construction business in Newport, R.I., first in one incarnation, and then another; he is the son of the mayor of Newport, Jeanne Marie Napolitano, who took over that prestigious office in January.
He is now the owner of A-1 Roofing and Construction Inc.
“When I was 8 to 10 years old, I was fascinated by construction. I was constantly taking things apart and trying to put them back together, and then I started to get good at it,” said Napolitano.
In 2007, Napolitano owned a small home building enterprise called Napolitano Building Corp., with 4 to 6 employees. His construction world changed, as did many others, when the economy plummeted in 2008.
“I went into a different focus due to the downturn in the economy. I thought, ’What is recession-proof?’ Well, roofing is recession-proof and that was the building work I decided to lead with.”
He formed A-1 to be a roofing company first, but it is much more than that. His company builds at least three single-family homes each year from the foundation up — digging the footprint, laying the foundation, building the structure, meticulously cutting the sheet metal for it, if need be and capping off its roof.
A-1 does full service general contracting, excavation, site work and site set up for utilities.
“We have an arm of our business that builds single family homes. We also have an arm of our business that does commercial roofing,” said Napolitano. “We are heavy into sheet metal work. We have over $150,000 in mechanical equipment for fabrication of sheet metal for roofs, houses, buildings, boats, hotels. We have the ability to mass produce fabricated sheet metal.”
His working fleet includes 11 trucks — vans, dump trucks, pick-up trucks, utility body trucks and the Equipter.
“They are in awe to watch it,” said Napolitano. “It is a neat piece of equipment, the Equipter 4000. It’s a self-propelled buggy. You have a platform with joy sticks and you move it around. We’re the only roofing contractor in Rhode Island with one of these. It goes up hills. It brings a platform/containment box right to roof level.”
Napolitano bought his Equipter when he attended the International Roofing Expo in New Orleans in February.
“I wanted to be forward thinking and push the envelope of our business, going into the 21st Century. This is the real McCoy. This is incredible. We have incredible cutting edge technology, literally, that nobody else has,” said Napolitano.
He spent $35,000 to procure it but has no regrets as the machines literally give him an edge; like his Roper Whitney auto brake that fabricates and bends custom pieces of metal work.
“We also have a mechanical shear, which is basically a giant guillotine for sheet metal. It’s awesome equipment. It’s downstairs,” Napolitano said of his garage.
“Commercial roofs generally all need new metal edging on the perimeter. We used to outsource that metal and buy it from a fabricator. Now, we do it all in house,” Napolitano said.
Major projects include the Long Wharf Mall in Newport; Garden City Shopping Center in Cranston, R.I.; all the roofing work on the Portsmouth R.I. Library; the Landings housing development in Middletown; the Knights of Columbus in Middletown; Newport Onshore Condominiums; and Fenner Hall in Newport.
“These are all projects I am very proud of,” Napolitano said.
“I had to evolve to stay in business. It was extremely difficult. The competition was fierce. But we have years of good reputation. We always do what’s best for the customer. We’re true to our word. There are times when people call me and want a new roof and I tell them, ’You don’t need a new roof.’ I’ve done that 10 times at least.
“I think this is a great business with a lot of opportunity,” Napolitano said. “My number one recommendation would be to always be painfully honest about assessment, price, everything. If it looks like a difficult project, I bring all the most difficult parts of that project up first,” said Napolitano.
His company now employs 16 people, including his new wife who is the office administrator and IT director, and his brother Joe, one of his carpenters.
Another family member is well-known in the city. Sean is the son of Jeanne-Marie Napolitano, the two-time, current mayor of Newport.
“I’m very proud of her. She got into politics after I got out of high school, as a longtime city councilor. She worked for my father in the insurance industry since 1970, and he’s still doing that,” said Napolitano.
They get along extremely well, but there is one condition he has to follow, given their relationship. “I just have to be very careful when I do bid on municipal jobs. Everything has to be by the book,” he said. “It’s more of a liability than an asset.”
“She is passionate about politics. I told her a couple of years ago that she should probably get out of it after she didn’t get selected mayor. She was the top vote getter for three or four years and they didn’t select her [to be mayor, a tradition for the top candidate] and she was so hurt I told her she should get out of it. Then, she persevered,” he said.
Does he have future political ambitions?
“I want that to be on the record and I say, ’No comment.’ ”
This does not mean he is not involved in public service, however. “I didn’t realize how much community service would help us,” he said. Napolitano serves on the board of Rebuilding Together in Newport, a charitable arm that rebuilds homes for two needy families every year for free, utilizing the hands, minds and tools of dozens of volunteers, including Napolitano.
“Then we do ’No Roof Left Behind.’ We give a new roof to one needy family each year. Last year, we gave two. We partner up with GAF Materials in New Jersey, who supply the materials,” Napolitano said. “We are a Master Elite contractor, which means we are among the top two percent of roofing companies nationwide [based on reputation].”
His charity work is selective and so is his demolition work occasionally, especially delicate adjustments when knocking down homes built around 1758 in this most historic of cities.
“We have two houses that we are building in Newport now. One is a historic renovation at 49 Second St. We are pouring a new foundation for a garage and a new two-story addition in the back. We just received Historic District Commission approval, because the house is more than 200 years old. The new structure has to be in harmony and the materials have to be in harmony with the existing house. It’s a very unique property. It’s the James Brown House in the Point section of Newport,” said Napolitano.
“I had to get historic approval to knock down a dilapidated two-story addition in the back. We had to do it by hand. We’re talking about sledge hammers, man power and saws-all. It probably took us two-and-a-half times longer to do it, than we usually do it. But it’s a neater, cleaner job,” Napolitano added.
“We found a 6-inch, 29.5 pound cannon ball while we were excavating. Everybody is fascinated with this,” he said pointing to the cast iron ball six inches in diameter. “It’s unbelievable. I love it. It was under 12 inches of earth. We dug up the earth and we turned this thing up.” It is quite possible the cannon ball is from the Revolutionary War. Presently, it’s the most impressive paperweight in all of Newport.
A-1 also finishes off modern projects like new roofs on the Bay Voyage Hotel, and sub-contractor for companies even outside of New England.
“We do a lot of work for a lot of different GCs,” Napolitano said. “A ton of general contractors ask us to do sheet metal work for them, etc. We’ve sub-contracted to Benchmark Construction based in Westbrook, Maine. They called me up to finish a job in North Smithfield, R.I. It is unusual to work for a GC from other states, but we do that,” he said.
“We are ripping down a house in Skillman, New Jersey,” said Napolitano. “A client of mine who lives on Indian Avenue in Middletown [R.I.] asked me if I would be willing to go down and handle the whole deal down in New Jersey, because he was comfortable with me. I interviewed three excavators down there and I hired one. I went through the permitting process. I had to familiarize myself with that process down in Montgomery County, where Skillman is, and then I could proceed. I just like to expand my horizons and that’s a great way of doing it.”
For more information on A-1 Roofing and Construction, visit www.A1roofingcompany.com or call 401/265-1019.